Monday, July 24, 2006


This weekend was a roller coaster of feeling of hatred and warmth for GradShitTownVille and my own plight for a Ph.D. Friday evening, I went to see "Monster House" with the boyfriend. While lingering in the cinema lobby, I had the strange feeling that I was at some kind of techie conference. I whispered to the boyfriend, "Is it sys-admin night?" Later on, we realized that it happened to be same the evening that "Clerks II" was released.

One of my complaints about GradShitTownVille has always been how the population is made up of a limited number of social groups. Most visible to my day-to-day haunts are the sys-admins, the sorority girls, frat boys, and mousy-but-snobbish academics. Admittedly, most cities are made up of social groups, but they usually have more than four. Chicago has its hip gay men in Lincoln Park, Tokyo has its Gothic Lolita teens in Harajuku, and Portland has its grunge homeless kids downtown. Human beings are pack animals, so it's difficult to find an acutal American Melting Pot. It's more like an American Tossed Salad, and in GradShitTownVille, it's the same four veggies every night.

That said, Saturday afternoon I was blessed to immerse myself in a social group I rarely experience. Grumpy from sys-admin night, I went to the local Artsy movie house that was showing Krrish, a three-hour Indian science fiction movie. It's like Crocodile Dundee + Batman + Cinderella + E.T. + West Side Story but not like any of those at all. In the audience, filled to the brim, were some of the Indians that populate this town. During intermission, kids ran around and played while everyone else fought for the two stalls in the bathroom.

So, yes, it's partly my fault that all I ever see are sys-admins. But is it also my fault that I have become a workaholic in order to be successful in this place? Is it the place, or is it me?

To continue my efforts to do something new--and perhaps perform a little self-mutilation on my physical body that so often disappoints me--I biked 48 miles yesterday, from GradShitTownVille to Monty-Cello and back. I've been biking all summer, my rides longer and longer, leading up to this particular ride. Yesterday was painful at parts--especially on the country backroads where the corn fields are still the same after an hour of riding. Monty-Cello is a nice little town, with most folks on the outskirts having a horse or two in their back yard. I found a little forest preserve, and the burial site of a woman from a Native American Tribe.

Today, because of the ride, I feel a bit like I do after giving blood. It is the same feeling I have the day before I get a cold. I woke up late with a painful headache, attended two meetings, ate a late lunch, and I sit here very aware that Monday is almost over. I'll be back in the office tonight, as usual, but that does not help me to overcome my current bout of research-guilt. It's been eight days since I've made progress on my research, which is mostly due to a side-project that's eating my time away like moths eat at sweaters in woolen closet. The work--not at all related to my thesis--one year ago was exciting and hopeful. It has lately become a thankless and depressing weight. I push myself towards a self-imposed deadline of next week, so that I might start again on my research, towards actually getting out of GradShitTownVille.

I wonder why I do these side projects; the dance troops, the radio shows, the panels, and the gender research. Is it because I am a person with diverse interests, or is it because I hesitate to do what I need to do to get out of here? If my priority is really to get out of GradShitTownVille, then dammnit I need to act like it.

For a while, I had. I'd been keeping a timesheet of my daily work, making sure to do 6 good hours of research a day (not counting meetings and other menial work). But the side-project derailed me, and I have to really look hard at myself and figure out why I allowed this to happen. My own values are to give back to the community, to be kind to my friends, but these values do not match those of my department which values research over all else. For four years, I've watched an internal battle. Do I do what I think is important, or what they think is important? Over time, I see that I have started to become what my department wants me to be in order to be labeled "successful." Will I complete this metamorphasis, and will I be able to regain my old self afterwards? I doubt it, for life challenges like these mark me forever.

I remember having lunch with an old high school friend, and he said, "You've calmed down A LOT. A LOT." It wasn't really a sense of calm, but something heavy that had euthanised the goofy clown I used to be. Is this what maturity means?

Looking over my old e-mails, I found something I once wrote to Tony. I told him that I'd hit a wall in my research, that I'd become afraid of making intellectual risks. He asked me why, if I was afraid of what my advisor might think of my work, and I replied,

I don't really care what anyone else thinks. It's mostly the fear that I will try and find that I can't do it anymore. I will find that I've exhausted all there is to my intellect and that I cannot go any further. I will find that I have finally hit the wall and I will have
to leave school like so many seem to leave, not with a bang, but with a whimper.

And I suppose this--all this--is why I did not go home for the summer. It's a little more self-mutilation, self-punishment, for going home is always its own reward. But I'm here, I'm hiding out from family and friends, afraid and unable to explain that I still don't know when I'll be done, that I still have not taken my prelim, and that I still hate it here.

Monday, July 10, 2006